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Goal-Setting Theory to Apply at Work

Goal setting is something we do every day without realising. Whether it’s losing weight, learning how to complete the ‘King Pigeon’ yoga pose or applying for a promotion at work, we set ourselves targets to achieve these goals on a daily basis.

Goal-setting theory was originally developed by researchers Locke and Latham (1990). It is now arguably one of the most robust theories in the world of work motivation (Kanfer 1990).

Many of you have heard of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed (SMART) goals often used in work. The original developers actually identified four aspects of goals that are needed to increase job performance and motivation: goals need to be clear & specific, difficult, accepted and feedback needs to be provided. 

Setting clear and specific goals will help us to keep focused and direct our efforts, difficult goals are challenging and will increase our need to develop task strategies to meet our goals, acceptance of the goals will increase our commitment to them and we need feedback to allow us to compare our performance with the standard that is required.

Do you ever write items on a list just to be able to tick them off?

Goal-setting works in a similar way. Intrinsically, they can increase our feelings of achievement, provide a sense of closure and can actually enhance self-esteem. If the goal is valued and goal achievement leads to reward such as promotion, then they can satisfy our extrinsic motivation too!

Example - Starting a new career:

Goal – I want to become a yoga instructor.

Specific – I want to become an Iyengar Senior Yoga Instructor by completing a one year course and volunteering at my local studio twice a week.

Difficult – This will take hard-work and persistence to achieve.

Accepted – I value this goal and I will be committed to achieving it.

Feedback – I will take on board the feedback I receive from my teachers and pupils.

Some tips

  • Keep goals non-conflicting – we are already setting difficult goals, we don’t want to also set ones that will distract us
  • Ensure the goals are valued – there is no point setting a goal that you do not want to reach
  • Self-efficacy is a mediating factor to the effectiveness of goal-setting. Believe that you can do it, and you are much more likely to be able to do it!
  • Ask for feedback – it is a vital element of successful goal-setting. Don’t be afraid to ask line managers or colleague’s how you are doing
  • Have persistence!

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